Skip to main Content

Indoor plants to make your house smell nice this winter

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: December 14, 2017
  • Published December 14, 2017

Hoya carnosa in bloom (Getty Images)

OK, more than one of you have come up and agreed with me that the internet is littered with media stories about air-cleaning houseplants. Yes, I know, I contributed with my column and am part of the mob, but I was really only trying to point out the obvious.

Next up in this line of news, and this is just a prediction based upon my keen ability to read the leaves, as it were, are articles on houseplants that make the house, or at least the room they are in, smell good. It is a natural progression from clean air stories.

Right at the top of that list for Alaskans is Jasminum polyanthum (also known as pink jasmine or white jasmine). This is a plant made for Alaska. If left in natural light, it starts to set blooms during the short days of the year and flowers shortly thereafter. I have written about these flowers before: they are intensely fragrant. And, this vining plant is capable of producing thousands of sweet-smelling flowers. My rule is that if you find Jasminum polyanthums for sale, no matter the time of year, buy them all. Your friends will all want them, if you can part with even one.

Jasminum polyanthum has intensely fragrant flowers. (KENPEI via Creative Commons)

In the Lower 48, however, gardenia plants are sure to top the list. Everyone knows what these look and smell like. To grow them as houseplants requires lots of light and pretty good humidity. You can find specimens at local nurseries many times a year and in supermarket and box stores in early spring.

I am not sure you will find the so-called scented geraniums on many of these lists, because the odor these plants produce comes from the leaves and not flowers (the flowers are lovely and delicate, but odorless). You brush or rub the leaves between two fingers to produce the smell. You have come across one kind or another of these houseplants.

Scented geraniums make for great collections because they come in all manner of scents, including citrus, mint, apricot, apple, lemon and even licorice. They are hardy little houseplants, though they do need some light. Because flowers are not involved, you will be able to smell the scent of them all year long.

Another great plant that happens to produce some darn nice fragrances is the hoya. There are lots of different varieties of this tropical, with the hoya carnosa, the so-called "wax plant" being the familiar one you can find at local nurseries. In addition to producing a great fragrance when in flower, this is one of those plants NASA found removes pollutants from the air. It has a reputation of flowering best when root bound and not liking water. Let the leaves start to pucker up a bit before rewetting the soil.

Next on the fragrant plant list, if you have lights, you can grow lavender in a pot. It needs to be grown cool and it has to have lots of good light. You need to make sure to cut back the flowers so new growth and flowers will develop.

While you may not get much fragrance from the orchids you buy at the supermarket, there are those that produce unbelievable smells. Look for zygopetalum hybrids and Oncidium Sharry Baby or Twinkle France Fantasy. I have seen these for sale in Alaska supermarkets and box stores. You may also find Maxillaria tenuifolia, sometimes known as the coconut pie plant due to its scent.

Maxillaria tenuifolia is a species of orchid sometimes known as the coconut pie plant due to its scent. (Cbaile19 via Creative Commons)

The thing about orchids is that some of these smell awful, literally designed to mimic dead animals. Others are simply out-of-this-world delicious. The trick is to ask when you see them for sale. If there are fragrant orchids in the offerings, you are in luck.

Of all the plants that smell good, what can beat plumeria. I have never had much luck with all those plumeria twigs lugged home from Hawaii. To get these to grow and flower takes much more humidity and light intensity than I am able to provide. If you have the ability, however, you know they are fragrant.

Finally, for smell, consider growing eucalyptus if you find its menthol fragrance pleasant. This is a plant that does not take any work. It does need lots of light. For many, simply buying and using a dried sprig or two in an arrangement is all the fragrance they need.

Note, plants that need lots of light tend to be what folks call "heavy feeders." This being the case, feed the microbes in your potting soil and they will feed your plants. Organics works indoors as well as outdoors. These are all plants and they grow the same way indoors as out.

Jeff's Alaska garden calendar

Alaska Botanical Garden: All Jeff Lowenfels wants for Christmas is for you to join the ABG. If you read this column and you or your family are not members, then you are missing out. It doesn't cost much, makes a great present that gives all year long. You get wonderful discounts and get to support the first organic botanical garden in the United States. It is easy. Go to and click the membership tab.

Local news matters.

Support independent, local journalism in Alaska.